Would Life With MS Be Better Without So Many People in It?

It would be easy for introverts and embittered, abandoned souls in general to conclude that life would be easier without so much social contact. Lots of MS patients complain about hostile, insensitive remarks from the (presumably) able-bodied people of their communities, often taking place in a store parking lot. If only, they lament.

If only...

  1. People would not judge a book by its cover. Why don’t they know about invisible symptoms? Why are people so darned cynical?
  2. The workplace would brush up on ADA guidelines and management would create a supportive environment for disabled workers.
  3. Our loved ones would stop being jealous, spiteful, dismissive, snarky, and judgmental, educate themselves about MS, and provide unconditional love and support.
  4. Doctors would stop being jerks and do their jobs while acting like human beings. Yes, that involves multi-tasking. It isn’t easy, but the effort would be appreciated.
  5. Our friends would remain our friends after our MS diagnosis. How could our friendships have been so shallow as to be ended by a mere inability to party all night long?

If only.

Tears are still shed

As an introverted, abandoned, embittered person with MS myself, I’ve turned this over in my mind lots. My heart is with all the sentiments listed above. Multiple wounds still bleed, many tears are still shed over decades-old slights. Sometimes I believe (and some people have told me) that I’m too sensitive to be alive. A better statement might be too sensitive to be in this world. Getting closer. How about too sensitive to be able to fully adapt to the mainstream. Or better yet, too sensitive and unwilling to fully adapt to the mainstream. It’s more honest and makes me more accountable for my own behavior.

Risky humor

Eleven or twelve years ago, one of the last job interviews I attended was as a receptionist at Jiffy Mix headquarters in Chelsea, Michigan, a 45-minute drive from my home. As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a man standing there directing traffic. When he saw me, he waved me towards a spot next to him. I complied, amused at this odd-looking parking lot attendant in a small lot that didn’t need one, directing parking in the same way Jerry Lewis mimed his way through THE BELLBOY. I was still smiling when I walked inside the historic Chelsea Mill building.

Nestled into a meeting room chair, I was joined by a Vice President, a supervisor, and the Human Resources director. Five minutes later, the parking lot attendant walked in and took a seat. He was introduced to me as Howdy Holmes, the CEO of Jiffy Mix. A response came into my head and I spent a second deciding whether I should go for it. It would be risky. I figured the odds at 2 to 1 that Howdy Holmes would hate it—or love it, depending on his sense of humor. I went for it.

“Gee, I’m embarrassed,” I said, blushing and stammering, “I saw you out in the parking lot directing traffic and I thought that guy is acting like he owns the place—and you do!”

The Vice President laughed heartily. “Good one,” he said. The supervisor held a frozen grin and said nothing. The HR director quietly said “Yes, he owns the place.”

I already knew I didn’t want to work there

Howdy Holmes’ pleasant smile had faded into a scowl. He said nothing. I knew I’d blown it. But it was worth it. I already knew I didn’t want to work there as a receptionist. The gal who was doing it that day was on her feet, wearing an earpiece to take calls so she could multi-task—which I knew was something I couldn’t physically handle. It was only a six-week temp assignment anyway.

But here’s the kicker. The HR director walked me out while we pleasantly chatted. Suddenly he said: “You don’t fit in anywhere, do you.”

Pushing against the ignorance of others

I ignored the remark and our conversation ended on a congenial note. I never forgot his remark, which I took more as criticism than neutral observation. It told me more about him than me. I already know who I am and that my strongest skills and purpose have nothing to do with the corporate world. But a person that thinks you don’t fit in anywhere has a very narrow view of what ‘anywhere’ is.

I didn’t share that story with you to defend the premise that drastically less social contact would necessarily make us happier. Pushing against the ignorance of others, stressful and upsetting as it is, makes me dig deeper into my own perceptions and feelings. It makes me more honest. And being a writer, it’s all material I can use for story-telling and reporting. That said, I am much happier being retired from a mainstream working life, no longer forced to hide my true self. I have more control over the amount of contact I have with ‘the outside world.’

I guess it’s all about striking a balance. What do you think?

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